Santa Clara, CAA California federal judge has given the green light for labor lawsuits accusing the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) of depriving U.S. college athletes of compensation for the commercial use of their “name, image and likeness” to proceed as an anti-trust class action. The plaintiffs, three college athletes, have accused the NCAA and its conferences of conspiring to restrict payments to athletes for television broadcasts, video games and other revenue sources.
The NCAA could be on the hook for billions of dollars in damages to more than 184,000 members, including players in men’s football and basketball, women’s basketball and other sports for schools in the NCAA's Division I, which is the top tier for U.S. college athletics, who played anytime between 2016 and today.
House v. NCAA
The initial lawsuit was filed by Arizona State swimmer Grant House and TCU basketball player Sedona Prince in 2020, and another complaint by former Illinois football player Tymir Oliver was added. The three athletes claim they were illegally blocked from maximizing the amount of money they could be earning from selling the rights to their name, image and likeness, due to NCAA rules restrictions, reported ESPN. Judge Wilken approved a division of the athletes into three categories, based on the ways those athletes might have been able to maximize their earnings if the NCAA's rules were different:
- Football and men's basketball players
- Women's basketball players
- All other Division I athletes
The plaintiffs divided lost earnings into three categories:
- Money from all NIL deals that were prohibited prior to the NCAA adopting new, temporary rules in July 2021
- Money from video game deals
- Money from broadcast rights
Men's basketball and football players lost money in all three categories; women's basketball players lost money from broadcast deals and general NIL restrictions, and all other athletes lost money from the general NIL restrictions. Plaintiffs’ experts contend that both male and female football and basketball players provide at least 10% of the value in television broadcast rights contracts, and that could amount to over $1 billion per year. Judge Wilken concurred, writing in her decision that she "finds ample support for Plaintiffs' assumption that student-athletes' NIL in broadcasts have value, and that their value is at least ten percent."
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Granting the House case class action status by Judge Wilken likely doesn’t bode well with the NCAA, given similar antitrust lawsuits over the past decade. According to ESPN, it represents a major financial threat to the NCAA and is one of several current legal challenges aimed at trying to force the association to change its business model. As well, previous federal antitrust lawsuits have mostly resulted in restructuring some parts of the NCAA's antiquated amateurism rules. Wilken oversaw the district-court portions of the Ed O'Bannon and Shawne Alston antitrust cases, which the NCAA lost in a Supreme Court ruling.
One plaintiffs’ lead attorney told USA TODAY Sports
that this class action “potentially means that student athletes will share (in) broadcast revenues, ticket sales and endorsement deals. It’s a huge potential change in the NCAA and student-athletes relationship.”